Summer Brings Bittersweet Transition for RLI

Lauren Berkun's remarks at Rabbinic Leadership Initiative Cohort V graduation

This summer will be a bittersweet transition, as the fifth cohort of the Shalom Hartman Institute Rabbinic Leadership Initiative fellowship will complete its final retreat in Jerusalem and graduate as Senior Hartman Rabbinic Fellows in the Hartman Institute Beit Midrash. At the same time, the Institute will welcome the new outstanding sixth cohort of RLI.

For more than 30 years, the Shalom Hartman Institute has made advancement of rabbinic leadership one of its core missions. The Institute is widely recognized as a world leader in providing pluralistic, intensive, thoughtful, and challenging study opportunities and leadership development for rabbis of all denominations.

One of the most transformative programs of the Shalom Hartman Institute over the last 15 years has been our intensive three-year fellowship for rabbis, the Rabbinic Leadership Initiative (RLI). In this program, a cohort of approximately 28 rabbis from throughout North America and across the denominational spectrum spend one month each summer and one week each winter at the Institute in Jerusalem for seminars with Hartman scholars, hevruta study, tiyyulim, cultural, political and social encounters in Israeli society, peer teaching, and interactive dialogue.

Throughout the year, RLI rabbis engage in extensive distance learning through video webinars, hevruta study, small group elective courses, and local projects. The RLI curriculum focuses on the main pillars of the scholarship and mission of the Shalom Hartman Institute:

  • Judaism and Modernity
  • Religious Pluralism
  • Jewish and Democratic Israel
  • Jewish Peoplehood
  • Judaism and the World.

RLI V members reflecting on their experience in the fellowship reported four main ways in which the program has deeply affected their personal and professional lives:

Overcoming Rabbinic Loneliness

The rabbinic path can be a lonely one. One of the most cherished aspects of Hartman’s RLI fellowship is the intimate chevre formed through study, dialogue, personal sharing, and peer teaching. Fellows repeatedly express that these diverse and talented rabbis have become their closest confidantes and friends, who provide support, guidance, love, and a feeling of “not being alone” in their rabbinates.

Having More Courage and Confidence

After three years of rigorous study with Hartman’s senior faculty, RLI fellows report a significant increase in their rabbinic confidence to serve as thought-leaders on the major challenges facing the Jewish people today.

Equipped with a new array of texts, and a values-based methodology for applying traditional text to contemporary challenges, RLI rabbis are able to preach, write, teach, and lead with greater sophistication and depth. Fellows share that they feel empowered to take new risks, innovate new program models, institute new creative forms of prayer and ritual, and make Torah learning a more central component of their community.

Developing a Relationship with Israel

After decades of working with rabbis who struggled with how to navigate the often toxic Israel conversation in their local communities, the Hartman Institute developed the iEngage Project in large part to help equip rabbis with new tools for engaging with Israel and facilitating new values-based conversations about Israel.

RLI fellows share that one of the most significant outcomes of the fellowship was their own transformed relationship with Israel. After spending so much time in Jerusalem, and after learning the iEngage curriculum in-depth with iEngage faculty members, the RLI rabbis became ambassadors for a new approach to Israel engagement in their communities.

Many RLI fellows teach the iEngage programs in their synagogues. Others now feel empowered to speak and write publicly about Israel in new ways, and to serve as leading voices in their communities around issues of Judaism and democracy, power and sovereignty, religious pluralism, Jewish peoplehood, the Israel-Diaspora relationship, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Finding Meaning and Purpose

One of the greatest gifts of the RLI fellowship is the intellectual and spiritual revitalization of rabbis, who report that they feel invigorated with a new sense of meaning and purpose in their personal and professional lives. The inspiring faculty, challenging content, and supportive cohort community fill RLI rabbis with a deep passion for their rabbinic leadership and a renewed vision for the impact they can make in the future.

The three-year program invites rabbis to ask important questions about their own Jewish lives: How can I enrich and revitalize my spiritual life? How can I understand my relationship with God? How can I understand my relationship with Israel/Zionism? What are the core texts that should animate my rabbinate? How can I become an interpreter of the most interesting texts in the Jewish canon? What are the major issues facing the Jewish people today, and how can I become empowered to speak as a leader on these issues?

The program also invites RLI rabbis to ask deep questions about their communal leadership: How can I speak and teach publicly with more courage and confidence? How can I help my community find more meaning and relevance in Judaism? How can I help my community develop a more meaningful spiritual life? How can I revitalize prayer in my community? How can I better serve as a moral voice, and what is my role as a rabbi in politics and the public square? How can I transform the Israel conversation? How can I make serious Torah learning a more meaningful and vital part of my community?

Shalom Hartman Institute provides an open space of pluralistic inquiry and intellectual risk-taking for rabbis to ask these burning questions. We invest our resources, faculty, and staff in helping rabbis explore the multiple voices within our Jewish tradition that can help them find personal meaning and purpose for their unique rabbinic journeys.

Congratulations to the graduating class of RLI V.

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